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Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS

Global Virus Update: NYC Hospitalisations Jump; Sweden’s Covid Passport; SA registers 3,751 new cases

(Photo: EPA-EFE / Mohammed Badra)
By Bloomberg
04 Feb 2021 0

South Africa on Thursday registered a further 3,751 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,466,767. A further 261 Covid-19 related deaths were reported. This brings the total to 45,605 deaths.

Dozens of US states are releasing vaccines left over from a federal initiative for nursing homes, increasing supply for other eligible people such as essential workers and seniors. New York City hospitalisations surged after the snowstorm, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The Bank of England forecasts that the UK economy is heading for a powerful rebound as a consequence of the government’s aggressive push to vaccinate its citizens. France said a new lockdown is not justified at the moment.

The University of Oxford is set to begin a trial combining vaccines from AstraZeneca and Pfizer that could provide greater flexibility in the use of scarce supplies. Sweden plans to roll out a “digital vaccination certificate” and has asked three government agencies to develop the infrastructure.

Key developments:

Ireland surpasses 200,000 cases

Ireland’s total Covid-19 cases passed 200,000, even as the virus’s spread continues to slow. While case numbers may increase in the days ahead as authorities widen testing of close contacts, the so-called reproduction number is between 0.5 and 0.8, the nation’s health ministry said. Ireland reported 1,318 new cases on Thursday, with 75 deaths.

Earlier, the government confirmed that its plan to vaccinate the over 70s will take longer than planned, after the Irish medicine regulator ruled the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be given to the elderly until there is more information of the vaccine’s efficacy on that age group.

Mozambique imposes restrictions

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi announced new restrictions on Thursday to last for 30 days, as the rate of infection in the southern African country rises. He imposed a curfew on the capital, Maputo, and surrounding areas, from 9pm to 4am. Churches and religious services are now banned. Schools have been closed and no events are allowed except for weddings. January was the deadliest month since the pandemic hit, accounting for half of a total 427 deaths.

France finds four Cases of Brazilian variant

French health authorities have found four patients infected with the Brazilian coronavirus variant as of Wednesday, including in mainland France as well as on the island of Reunion, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in a weekly press briefing. Covid variants make up about 14% of French cases, mainly the strain that emerged in the UK, Veran said.

“It’s the South African and Brazilian variants that worry us the most,” the minister said. “Our goal is clear, we want to limit as much as possible the spread of these variants, to gain time to vaccinate.”

Also, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday that while it isn’t possible to ease restrictions, a new lockdown isn’t justified at the moment.

US Capitol police to get vaccine

All members of the US Capitol Police — which suffered an outbreak following the 6 January riot — will be given access to vaccines, the department announced.

“Thanks to the efforts of the Congressional leadership, especially House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the administration, enough doses of the Covid-19 vaccines have been secured to vaccinate all USCP personnel,” Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman said. The police union had reported 38 cases on the force in the two weeks following the riot.

NYC denied shifting first vaccine doses for second 

New York’s state health commissioner denied New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s request to start using vaccine doses that have been reserved for second doses.

The city has about 320,000 doses on hand that have been reserved for second doses. De Blasio said these doses had been sitting in storage for weeks and could be used for first doses.

Commissioner Howard Zucker on Thursday, responding to a 3 February letter from the mayor, said the Biden administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are not currently recommending the use of second doses as first doses. The state will continue to follow that guidance, unless the CDC says otherwise, he said. “If the CDC does in fact recommend usage of the second dose as a first dose, I can assure you New York will set the national model.”

De Blasio responded by saying the decision “makes no sense to me”.

“We would not be having this conversation if we had ample supply,” he said. “We’re in a wartime dynamic. People are suffering, people are scared and they are vulnerable. The reality is we need to protect people and free up those second doses.”

UK deaths slow

The UK reported 915 new virus deaths, the lowest number on a weekday since 5 January, government data show.

The nation reported 20,634 new cases, compared with a 7-day average of 22,396, and that 10.5 million people have now had their first vaccine dose.

NYC hospitalisations jump after storm

New York City vaccine sites are up and running again after a snowstorm shut them down for a number of days, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

“All appointments have been rescheduled,” De Blasio said during a Thursday briefing.

The mayor said the city also saw a surge of patients admitted into New York City hospitals, which jumped to 300 on Tuesday, compared with the previous days which saw the numbers dip below 200.

“It’s very high,” de Blasio said. “We think a number of people didn’t go into the hospital because of the storm but we’re going to watch that number carefully.”

The city’s seven-day average of new Covid cases showed signs of improvement: They dropped below 4,000 on 2 February for the first time since December.

Vaccines from nursing homes boost supply in US states

Dozens of US states are releasing thousands of Covid-19 vaccines left over from a federal initiative for nursing homes, increasing supply for other eligible people such as essential workers and seniors.

Illinois will use about 97,000 doses earmarked for nursing homes to vaccinate people 65 and older, teachers and other members eligible under phase 1B. Thirty-two states and cities are transferring extra doses from the federal program, Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an email Thursday.

Israel’s vaccination drive cuts cases among older citizens

Israel’s vaccination drive has reduced confirmed Covid-19 cases among older Israelis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.

Netanyahu cited a 45% drop in confirmed cases and a 26% decline in hospitalisations of seriously ill patients among people aged 60 and older in the past 16 days. Israel’s vaccination drive, which began in late December, started with this age group, and more than 80% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The prime minister spoke at a cabinet meeting to discuss whether to extend a six-week lockdown, which is due to end Friday morning. Netanyahu and health officials want to extend the lockdown through the weekend, as the rate of infection and the number of severe cases among the broader public remain high.

Germany announces new tax help for businesses

Germany will double the amount companies can write off against their taxes and extend a value-added-tax reduction for the hospitality sector, the Finance Ministry announced on Thursday. The measures are part of the government’s third major package aimed at helping the economy cope with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Iran receives Russian vaccines

Iran received its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines on Thursday with the arrival of a flight carrying Sputnik V jabs from Russia, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported.

The 500,000 doses are the first of three shipments from Russia, Fars said. Iran has been the hardest hit by the coronavirus in the Middle East, with some 1.4 million people infected and more than 58,000 dead so far.

BOE sees rapid UK rebound following vaccine push

The Bank of England said the UK economy is heading for a rapid pickup in light of a bold vaccination effort, a sign that the stifling grip of the coronavirus crisis may finally start to ease.

Despite lowering its outlook for the year, the central bank sounded an optimistic note on its hopes of a powerful rebound. Officials also kept monetary stimulus in place and agreed as a contingency that banks should prepare for the possibility of negative interest rates.

The pound rose and gilts fell after the release of the BOE’s decision and forecasts, which showed growth in 2021 of 5%, following a slump of twice that magnitude last year.

White House weighs sending masks to all citizens

The White House is considering a plan to send masks to all US households, NBC reported, citing three people familiar with the talks. President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 response team is evaluating the proposal.

Almost a quarter of India contracted Covid — study

Nearly a quarter of India’s 1.3 billion people have had Covid-19, according to the latest sero-prevalence study, indicating a large proportion remain vulnerable to the virus.

The survey conducted by the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research found 21.5% of the samples of 28,589 people from the general population and 7,171 healthcare workers taken between 17 December to 8 January had coronavirus antibodies. That means as many as 280 million people have been infected.

India is the second-worst hit country in the world, trailing only the US with more than 10.7 million confirmed cases and 154,703 deaths. It has vaccinated 4.6 million people since its inoculation campaign began on 16 January.

Portugal’s surge eases after nearing breaking point

Portugal’s government said confinement measures are starting to take effect on the spread of the coronavirus, slowing infections after a dramatic surge in cases pushed hospital capacity to near breaking point.

Having been less affected than Spain and Italy during the first wave of the outbreak, it saw the situation deteriorate rapidly in 2021 as the Covid-19 variant that emerged in the UK spread rapidly through the country. While the tally of daily infections has dropped since reaching a record last week, Portugal still has the world’s highest number of new cases and deaths per million over seven days.

Sinovac says its vaccines are safe for elderly

Sinovac’s coronavirus vaccines have similar safety and immunogenicity results among healthy people aged 60 years and older, compared with those observed between 18 to 59 years, the company said in a statement, citing findings from a phase one and two clinical trial published in The Lancet.

Austria’s Tyrol province sees surge of mutation

Austria’s Tyrol province, host to the Ischgl ski resort that became a superspreader venue in the pandemic’s early months, is seeing a surge in infections attributable to the variant that was first identified in South Africa.

The chief virologist at the Medical University of Innsbruck found that about a fifth of new infections were probably caused by the variant and are calling for the region’s borders to be closed. The Health Ministry is reviewing the situation.

Denmark to use Astra shots for people under 65

Denmark will predominantly use AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for people under the age of 65, the Danish Health Authority says in a statement. The doses are expected to arrive as early as next week, with the country preparing to vaccinate all eligible and willing residents by July 4.

Sweden to introduce vaccine passports

Sweden plans to roll out a “digital vaccination certificate” and has asked three government agencies to develop the infrastructure to handle the relevant personal data.

The new certificate should be ready for use “before the summer”, Health Minister Lena Hallengren and Minister of Digitalisation Anders Ygeman said at a press conference on Thursday.

Vaccination delays risk Middle East unrest

Possible delays in distributing vaccines could bring back social unrest in parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and obstruct a speedy economic recovery, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“It’s important to accelerate the provision of the vaccines in order to reduce the risk of diversions between countries, and also diversion within countries, which could lead to some social unrest,” said Jihad Azour, the IMF’s director for MENA and central Asia, in an interview with Bloomberg.

Netherlands caseload reaches one million

The tally of confirmed cases hit one million in the Netherlands. While the country’s overall caseload has declined on a weekly basis since late 2020, it extended its lockdown earlier in the week until 2 March as officials are concerned about an increase in cases with people infected by more contagious strains. The number of fatalities in the Netherlands is 14,281.

UK ‘passes peak’, vaccinates 10 million

The UK has passed the peak of its latest wave of the pandemic, officials said, as the country reached the milestone of vaccinating 10 million people, about 15% of the population.

Still, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said infections remain widespread and the state-run National Health Service would be “back in trouble extraordinarily fast” if social restrictions are lifted. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is “very hopeful” that schools will open on 8 March, though he cautioned against moving too soon. DM

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Joost Akkermans, Boris Groendahl, Jonathan Tirone, Peter Pae, Bibhudatta Pradhan, Yasna Haghdoost, Henry Goldman, Charles Capel, Keshia Clukey, Borges Nhamirre, and Peter Flanagan.

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address Covid-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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